Christianity 201

December 31, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Last day of the year; first day of the week…

…An ending and a beginning all at the same time. If that’s not a metaphor for the Christian faith in terms of living and dying, then I don’t know a better one! The idea that strikes me is that the end of this life is the beginning of the next chapter; the chapter we call eternity.

As a generation raised on Science Fiction, we’re probably more attuned than previous generations to the dimension of time. Biblical scholars tell us that the New Testament scriptures are less preoccupied about future concerns and more focused on living the Christ-follower life in their here and now.

Paul was a bi-vocational pastor, teacher and missionary. His “day job” if you want to call it that, was making tents. So when he does look at afterlife, he uses a work analogy to express the end of life:

Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.

2 Cor 4:16b – 2 Cor 5:2 (NLT)

I was also thinking of this in terms of prayer. God exists outside of linear time as we know it, but when we pray, we have an inter-dimensional communication channel from the constraints of time to a creator who exists in eternity. Each time you pray, the one you are speaking to is in a entirely different world (to put it mildly) and yet, although in Jesus “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens;” at the same time, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are…” (Hebrews 4:14b – 15a; HCSB)

We launch our prayers into eternity, but as we pray in Jesus’ name we have an intermediary who has lived under the same temporal and spatial limitations as we.

That eternity will soon be our home.

How would Paul say it if he were a contemporary writer? Perhaps he’d think in terms of a video game where you move on to the next level. Or maybe a rocket ship. When we jettison this space capsule, we will have arrived at a destination where we will breathe new air and have a new body. (It needs work, but you get the idea, right?)

‘Last day of the year; first day of the week?’ He might say, ‘Last day on earth, first day in eternity.’ (I would have liked it better if had been, ‘Last day of the week, first day of the year;’ but we’ll have to wait and see if a future calendar arrangement permits that one.)

When we keep eternity in view — and when we pray into eternity — I think we have a reason to worship.

 

 

 

December 13, 2016

The Prayer that Looks Upward

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. – Psalm 57:5 (also 11)

For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? – Psalm 89:6

Like so many, I often wake up in the night unable to get back to sleep. I have found that simply focusing on scriptures passages I have memorized is very helpful, but often I take 20 minutes before I remember to focus on those scriptures.

The Psalmist said he had hidden God’s Word in his heart “so I might not sin against thee;” but in a recent article Jacob Young remembered something John Piper had said about memorizing scripture for the inevitable onslaught of old age:

He commented that one aspect of the value of Scripture memory for him was to fill his head with as much Scripture so that when everything else goes (via dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.) there will hopefully remain the truths from God’s mind. When the likelihood of losing all memory is coming at you, what do you want to remain? When the paint and drywall of the mind behind to be taken away, what are the studs and foundation?

So it was several nights ago while processing the words of The Lord’s Prayer (what Catholics call The Our Father) that I realized there are two nouns in the prayer which occur twice.

The first is “heaven” occurring in Matthew 6:9

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

and also in the next verse:

“…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

It was interesting to note that absolutely without exception, in verse 9 all the English translations kept the same word (Phillips used ‘heavenly Father’) and in verse 10 only The Message dropped the term, replacing the phrase with ‘as above, so below’ which keeps the simile but phrased in reversed order.

You could say that in Christianity, the concept of heaven is a given. Like the cross and resurrection, there is no substitution of terms required.

While your first reaction might be to look up the term in Greek (Matthew is New Testament after all) it’s interesting to see how heretofore Jesus’ followers would have understood the Hebrew term Shamayim. The word is taken from a root not found in scripture which means lofty. BibleStudyTools.com provides this definition:

heaven, heavens, sky

  1. visible heavens, sky
    1. as abode of the stars
    2. as the visible universe, the sky, atmosphere, etc
  2. Heaven (as the abode of God)

and informs us the Hebrew equivalent term is used in the Old Testament 392 times with other meanings including horizons and sky.

This prayer, which includes an acknowledgement of God’s holiness, the establishing of his kingdom, the carrying out of his will, the petition for daily provision, the request to be kept from temptation, etc. is also a prayer which causes us to look upward.

BibleStudyTools also contains Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Bible Theology. There we read:

“Heaven” is the created reality beyond earth. “The heavens and the earth” ( Gen 1:1 ) circumscribe the entire creation, or what we call the universe. God does not need heaven in which to exist. He is self-existent and infinite. Place is an accommodation of God to his finite creatures. God transcends not only earth, but heaven as well.

“Heaven” designates two interrelated and broad concepts, the physical reality beyond the earth and the spiritual reality in which God dwells…

Three nuances of meaning are given first, and then we are brought to:

…Fourth, the vastness and inaccessibility of heaven are visual reminders of God’s transcendence, God’s otherworldliness, however, is a spiritual, not a spacial, fact. When Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple, he acknowledged, “the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you” ( 1 Kings 8:27 ).

The Dwelling Place of God. Heaven most commonly refers to the dwelling-place of God. Heaven is where the glory of God is expressed in pristine clarity. The term “glory, ” therefore, has popularly been used as a synonym for heaven ( Rom 8:18 ). Actually, God’s glory is above the heavens ( Psalm 113:4 ; 148:13 ) because it is the sum total of his attributes that are expressed wherever he is present ( Exod 13:21-22 ; Psalm 108:5 ; 2 Col 3:7-18 ). In heaven there is a continual acknowledgment of God’s glory ( Psalm 29:9 ). Various figurative expressions identify God’s heavenly abode such as “the highest heaven” ( 1 Kings 8:27 ), “the heavens” ( Amos 9:6 ), and “his lofty palace in the heavens” ( Amos 9:6 ). Paul speaks of being taken up into “the third heaven” ( 2 Cor 12:2 ). Although he does not identify the first two, possible references to the atmospheric and celestial heavens are suggestive.

The Heavenly Perspective. God invites human beings to adopt his heavenly perspective. All blessings, whether natural or supernatural, are from God ( James 1:17 ; see John 3:27 ), who is Creator and Sustainer of the universe ( Rom 11:36 ). Israel rightly regarded rain as a heavenly gift from God ( Deut 28:12 ). Likewise, drought was a sign of God’s displeasure ( Deut 28:23-24 ).

So we are not only being asked to look upward, but we are looking beyond.

  • Beyond what we can see from our perspective
  • Beyond what we know; God is wholly other
  • Beyond what we can fully comprehend; the place of God’s glory

The other noun which occurs twice, depending on which version of the prayer you learned, is kingdom and we’ll look at that one tomorrow.


Previously at C201: We looked at two songs, How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place and Better Is One Day.

all sections today were NIV

August 25, 2011

A Hunger Deep Inside My Soul

Both on and off the blog, I get comments from people who remember particular songs and are able to find them here. Especially a couple of the older songs from the three different Psalms Alive CDs Maranatha Music produced many years ago. 

We often underestimate the power of song.  Psalm 84 has been the source of many worship songs.  We can think of a few, but imagine the themes of scripture expressed musically over the past 2,000 years; the songs that were lost over the ages, and the songs that were written for use in one local church setting that were never heard beyond that church’s walls.  Here’s “How Love is Your Dwelling Place” from Psalms Alive (Maranatha Music).

The hunger deep inside the Psalmist’s soul for God’s word, God’s law and statutes, and being in God’s temple is a recurring theme throughout the Psalms. When you read the text of the Psalm you’ll also recognize a popular worship chorus from our own generation in verse 10 (and if you grew up Pentecostal or Charismatic, one from your parent’s generation in verse 11). It’s interesting that the writer’s desire to be in God’s presence is twice expressed in language that could refer to a tabernacle or building, and how that contrasts with our world today where we see declining church attendance and even church closures.

Psalm 84

New International Version (NIV)

    For the director of music. According to gittith. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.

 1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
   LORD Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
   for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
   for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
   and the swallow a nest for herself,
   where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
   LORD Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
   they are ever praising you.

 5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
   whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
   they make it a place of springs;
   the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength,
   till each appears before God in Zion.

 8 Hear my prayer, LORD God Almighty;
   listen to me, God of Jacob.
9 Look on our shield, O God;
   look with favor on your anointed one.

 10 Better is one day in your courts
   than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
   than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
   the LORD bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
   from those whose walk is blameless.

 12 LORD Almighty,
   blessed is the one who trusts in you.

Here’s a version of Better is One Day by the group Petra:

Do we regard the presence of God with the same passion?  Can we say with verse 10 that in terms of the things of this world, the presence of God in ratio to the things of this world rates at better than 1,000:1 ?

August 9, 2011

Is Heaven and The New Jerusalem One and the Same?

While the blog The Pursuit of the Deeper Truth and Proper Christian Experience has a rather long title, and a bias toward the writings of Witness Lee and Watchman Nee, here at Christianity 201, we’re an equal opportunity blog with a bias toward anything that gets us thinking and studying.  In today’s spiritual climate, there is much interest in heaven and the afterlife, and it’s so easy to hear a phrase like “New Jerusalem” and rush to the conclusion “New Jerusalem = Heaven.”  Thomas Marvin sees each differently and clarifies that with this post originally titled Heaven or the New Jerusalem — Is There a Difference?

“And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Rev. 21:2)

 Fundamentally Different, Not Just a Matter of Semantics

Many people unintentionally, mistake the New Jerusalem for heaven. When I was a child, I remember singing a song that says:

“I’ve got a mansion just over the hill top
 in that bright land where we’ll never grow old
and some day yonder, we’ll never more wander,
but walk those streets that are paved with gold.”

I may have gotten a few words wrong, but the gist of the song is pretty clear.  That is, that we’re going to heaven—“to that bright land where we’ll never grow old” and “walk those streets that are paved with gold.” However, in aspiring to heaven,  the writer was, in referring to golden streets,  addressing an attribute of the holy city, New Jerusalem.

In the many years since my childhood days of singing that song, I’ve never once read in the Bible where it says that heaven has golden streets. However,  Revelation  21:21, in speaking of the New Jerusalem, does say “the  street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” You can see from this illustration, the thought of heaven having golden streets,  is just one example of the confusion of heaven and the New Jerusalem.

Well, someone may say, “Aren’t they one and the same—heaven and the New Jerusalem? I say heaven. You say New Jerusalem. It’s all about the same.” However, the opening verse I referenced points to a distinction. In Revelation 21:2 it says that the holy city, New Jerusalem is coming down out of heaven. This verse directly indicates a difference, for the New Jerusalem to come down out of heaven indicates that the two expressions are not synonymous.

Then what is the distinction?

Heaven, God’s dwelling (1 Kings 8:50), the place of His throne (Isa. 66:1), and the place where Christ ascended physically after His resurrection (Acts 1:9-11)  is no doubt a physical place. However, the New Jerusalem is not a physical place “to which we go” but the greatest sign in the entire Bible (see Rev. 1:1) signifying, God’s spiritual, eternal building of divinity and humanity.  It is the eternal, consummation of all God’s work in humanity throughout the ages, a mingling of God and man to be the mutual dwelling place for both God and all His redeemed people for eternity.

What difference does it make anyway?

 The view you have between the heaven and the New Jerusalem can change your entire Christian life. If your view is that a Christian’s eternal destiny is simply to “go to heaven” when we die, you may feel that as long as you are born again or regenerated, you are basically waiting to go to heaven. In addition, one with this concept might consider their service to God in this age ends with helping as many perishing people as possible to also go to heaven when they die. This heaven or hell gospel has unfortunately caused many a well-intended Christian to miss out on the deeper meaning of their Christian life on earth today. This kind of view of a Christian’s eternal destiny is “locational,” basically a change of place, from earth to heaven, instead of hell.

From Revelation 21:2, however, we can see that the New Jerusalem is “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”  From verses 9-10, we can see that the bride, the wife of Lamb is the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. I’d like to point out again that this city is “out of heaven,” so it is not heaven. Second, I’d like to point out that this city is married to the Lamb, Christ (John 1:29). Such a bride is adorned for her husband (v. 2). This implies that a process of getting ready is necessary. A bride must match her husband, to be his counterpart.

Likewise, we must be “adorned” to marry Christ, to be His corporate counterpart, His wife. Anyone you marry must be “bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh, even as Eve was to Adam (Gen. 2:23). To be bone of Christ’s bones, and flesh of His flesh, we must be the same as Christ in life and nature. We also must grow up in His life unto maturity (Eph 4:13, 15-16). Christ, would be humiliated to marry an immature bride. He would rather wait. Such has been the case for nearly 2,000 years of church history. Christ is waiting for His bride to be prepared.

Where is the bride for Christ to come back for?

So to make my point, the New Jerusalem is not a “locational” matter—a change in location, but an “intrinsic” or “essential” matter—a change of essence or constitution. We’re not just going to the New Jerusalem, we’re becoming the New Jerusalem. To be in the New Jerusalem, one must first become the New Jerusalem.  Through the process of God’s complete salvation—the regeneration of our spirit (John 3:6), the transformation of our soul (Rom. 12:2), and the glorification of our body (Rom. 8:30), we must become the same as Christ in life and nature but not in His Godhead, being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Such a change in essence requires that once we are saved, we cooperate with God’s central work, that is to allow God to work Himself into our entire being (1 Thes. 5:23; Eph. 3:17). Only in this way can we become the proper constituents for the building of Christ’s Body today and of the New Jerusalem for eternity. Only in such a way can we be Christ’s bride, adorned for our dear Husband.

How is this Bride-city being prepared today?

In between the type of Adam and Eve, the first couple, in Genesis 2:18-23 and the fulfillment of this type, in the eternal couple in Revelation 21-22, we have the process of preparation in Ephesians 5:25-32. Here we can see the church, for whom Christ died in the past (v. 25), being sanctified in the present (v. 26), and presented to Christ,  as His glorious bride in the future (v. 27). If we see that our eternal destiny is to become Christ’s bride, the holy city, the New Jerusalem, we will not foolishly waste our precious time today. Rather we will redeem every day to pursue Christ (Phil. 3:12), to gain Him and be found in Him (vv. 8-9) and to be sanctified by Christ, by enjoying the daily washing of the water in His word (v. 26). In this way we will be daily renewed (2 Cor. 4:16) to become as “new” as the New Jerusalem.

Such a life of redeeming the time, by understanding what the will of the Lord is (Eph 5:15-18), will bring us onward to God’s eternal goal and cause us to daily live a bride-preparing life, a life of preparing ourselves to become Christ’s bride, the New Jerusalem,  for our eternal marriage.

I believe, I’ve made my point, that is, that we need to be spiritually preparing today for our coming marriage to Christ. For those who still have some concerns about believers going to heaven, and how that fits with the New Jerusalem, Witness Lee does a better job than I can of addressing the matter in chapter 18 of his book, The Church as the Body of Christ.